Alys, Always: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview

From the author of Her, a suspenseful, assured literary debut that explores the dark side of desire and ambition through one woman's unlikely entry into an elite world and a destiny of her own design.

On a bitter winter's night, Frances Thorpe comes upon the aftermath of a car crash and, while comforting the dying driver, Alys Kyte, hears her final words. The wife of a celebrated novelist, Alys moved in rarefied circles, and when Frances ...
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Alys, Always: A Novel

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Overview

From the author of Her, a suspenseful, assured literary debut that explores the dark side of desire and ambition through one woman's unlikely entry into an elite world and a destiny of her own design.

On a bitter winter's night, Frances Thorpe comes upon the aftermath of a car crash and, while comforting the dying driver, Alys Kyte, hears her final words. The wife of a celebrated novelist, Alys moved in rarefied circles, and when Frances agrees to meet the bereaved family, she glimpses a world entirely foreign to her: cultured, wealthy, and privileged. While slowly forging a friendship with Alys’s carelessly charismatic daughter, Frances finds her own life takes a dramatic turn, propelling her from an anonymous existence as an assistant editor for the books section of a newspaper to the dizzying heights of literary society.

With her unforgettable protagonist, author Harriet Lane draws readers into a tightly paced tale that careens towards an audacious ending. Transfixing, insightful, and unsettling, Alys, Always drops us into the mind of an enigmatic young woman whose perspective on a glamorous world also shines a light on those on the outside who would risk all to become part of it.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This highly entertaining and squirm-inducing short novel that Frances herself might reductively

pitch to her boss in the books department as Howards End meets All About Eve.….A breezy, lacerating first novel.” —New York Times Book Review

A “taut debut novel.” —New York Times

“Harriet Lane writes with style, wrapping her suspenseful debut in lovely bits of gently creepy description, as well as delicious social critique…a fast, sharp read.” —Boston Globe

“A deft and lively brain-twist of a thriller for which the only word that seems apropos is ‘spellbinding.’” —Chicago Tribune

"Controlled and precise, Lane’s writing bewitches with its undertones of implied meanings and carefully hidden secrets. This is a gem." -Kirkus (starred review)

“Lane’s wry debut delves into the political machinations of London’s literary scene.” —Publishers Weekly

“Harriet Lane’s mesmerizing debut novel, Alys, Always, is a slow-burning psychological novel that unsettles and satisfies in equal, tantalizing measure—a literary All About Eve that stands testament to the old saying that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” —The Daily Beast

"This novel begins with a bang and delivers all sorts of surprises, but manages some accute and moving observations...A very fine debut. Lane works out her dramatic premise with great originality."—The Times (UK)

"Wonderfully observed...This is a gripping, psychologically complex achievement, whose greatest success is its lingering sense of unease."—The Telegraph (UK)

"[An] exceptional first novel...In Frances [Harriet Lane] has created a character Daphne du Maurier might have been prood of: vulnerable, manipulative, resourceful, chippy, but one of us."—Financial Times (UK)

New York Times Book Review (cover review) - Jonathan Dee
“Highly entertaining... Howards End meets All About Eve... A breezy, lacerating first novel.”
The New York Times - Susannah Meadows
"A taut debut."
Boston Globe - Mindy Farabee
“Harriet Lane writes with style, wrapping her suspenseful debut in lovely bits of gently creepy description, as well as delicious social critique… a fast, sharp read.”
Chicago Tribune - Julia Keller
“A deft and lively brain-twist of a thriller for which the only word that seems apropos is ‘spellbinding.’”
USA TODAY - Deirdre Donohue
“Fabulous... I gobbled it up in one furtive sitting. It's crafted with the merciless but accurate observations and the lean elegance you find in Anita Brookner at her best... Like its narrator, Alys, Always is unforgettable”
The Daily Beast - Lucy Scholes
“Mesmerizing... a slow-burning psychological novel that unsettles and satisfies in equal, tantalizing measure—a literary All About Eve that stands testament to the old saying that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”
The Times (UK)
"This novel begins with a bang and delivers all sorts of surprises, but manages some accute and moving observations.. .A very fine debut. Lane works out her dramatic premise with great originality."
The Telegraph (UK)
"Wonderfully observed...This is a gripping, psychologically complex achievement, whose greatest success is its lingering sense of unease."
Financial Times (UK)
"Exceptional... In Frances [Lane] has created a character Daphne du Maurier might have been proud of: vulnerable, manipulative, resourceful, chippy, but one of us."
The Independent (UK)
"This chilling and accomplished debut is in classic Ruth Rendell territory. Crucially, the author knows the trick of what to leave out, and of how to tantilise."
The Spectator (UK)
"A superbly disquieting psychological thriller... Lane is a formidable wordsmith, and the literary world is conjured up in all its delicous, gossipy hierarchy.... Mordantly funny, yet chilling, this tale of an ordinary woman inveigling her way into a position of power is compulsive reading."
Daily Mail (UK)
"Superbly, even poetically written with an almost feverish hyper-realism, this All About Eve for our times misses no telling detail... A brilliant idea, brilliantly realized. I loved it, loved it. I've run out of superlatives and all that remains to say is that I wish I was you; I wish I hadn't read it and had that pleasure to come."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451673180
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 47,009
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Harriet Lane has worked as an editor and writer at Tatler and the Observer. She has also written for the Guardian, the Telegraph, and Vogue. She lives in London, England. Alys, Always is her first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

Alys, Always

It’s shortly after six o’clock on a Sunday evening. I’m sure of the time because I’ve just listened to the headlines on the radio.

Sleet spatters the windscreen. I’m driving through low countryside, following the occasional fingerpost toward the A road and London. My headlights rake the drizzle, passing their silver glow over gates and barns and hedgerows, the CLOSED signs hung in village shop windows, the blank, muffled look of houses cloistered against the winter evening. Few cars are out. Everyone is at home, watching TV, making supper, doing the last bits of homework before school tomorrow.

I’ve taken the right fork out of Imberly, past the white rectory with the stile. The road opens up briefly between wide, exposed fields before it enters the forest. In summer, I always like this part of the drive: the sudden, almost aquatic chill of the green tunnel, the sense of shade and stillness. It makes me think of Milton’s water nymph, combing her hair beneath the glassy, cool, translucent wave. But at this time of year, at this time of day, it’s just another sort of darkness. Tree trunks flash by monotonously.

The road slides a little under my tyres so I cut my speed right back, glancing down to check on the instrument panel, the bright red and green and gold dials that tell me everything’s fine; and then I look back up and I see it, just for a second, caught in the moving cone of light.

It’s nothing, but it’s something. A shape through the trees, a sort of strange illumination up ahead on the left, a little way off the road.

I understand immediately that it’s not right. It’s pure instinct: like the certainty that someone, somewhere out of immediate eyeshot, is watching you.

The impulse is so strong that before I’ve even really felt a prickle of anxiety, I’ve braked. I run the car into the muddy, rutted margin of the road, up against a verge, trying to angle the headlights in the appropriate direction. Opening the car door, I pause and lean back in to switch off the radio. The music stops. All I can hear is the wind soughing in the trees, the irregular drip of water onto the bonnet, the steady metronome of the hazard flashers. I shut the door behind me and start to walk, quite quickly, along the track of my headlights, through the damp snag of undergrowth, into the wood. My shadow dances up ahead through the trees, growing bigger, wilder, with every step. My breath blooms in front of me, a hot, white cloud. I’m not really thinking of anything at this moment. I’m not even really scared.

It’s a car, a big, dark car, and it’s on its side, at an angle, as if it is nudging its way into the cold earth, burrowing into it. The funny shape I saw from the road was the light from its one working headlamp projecting over a rearing wall of brown bracken and broken saplings. In the next few seconds, as I come close to the car, I notice various things: the gloss of the paintwork bubbled with raindrops, the pale leather interior, the windscreen that hasn’t fallen out but is so fractured that it has misted over, become opaque. Am I thinking about the person, or people, inside? At this moment, I’m not sure I am. The spectacle is so alien and so compelling that there’s not really any space to think about anything else.

And then I hear a voice, coming from within the car. It’s someone talking, quite a low, conversational tone. A sort of muttering. I can’t hear what is being said, but I know it’s a woman.

“Hey—are you all right?” I call, moving around the car, passing from the glare of the headlight into blackness, trying to find her. “Are you okay?” I bend to look down into windows, but the dark is too thick for me to see in. As well as her voice—which murmurs and pauses and then starts again, without acknowledging my question—I can hear the engine ticking down, as if it’s relaxing. For a moment I wonder whether the car is about to burst into flames, as happens in films, but I can’t smell any petrol. God, of course: I have to call for an ambulance, the police.

I pat my pockets in a panic, find my mobile, and make the call, stabbing at the buttons so clumsily that I have to redial. The operator’s answer comes as an overwhelming, almost physical relief. I give her my name and telephone number and then, as she leads me through the protocol of questions, I tell her everything I know, trying hard to sound calm and steady, a useful person in a crisis. “There’s been an accident. One car. It looks like it came off the road and turned over. There’s a woman in there, she’s conscious; there might be other people, I don’t know, I can’t see inside. Wistleborough Wood, just outside Imberly, about half a mile past the Forestry Commission sign—up on the left, you’ll see my car on the road, it’s a red Fiat.”

She tells me help is on its way and I hang up. There’s quiet again: the trees creaking, the wind, the engine cooling. I crouch down. Now my eyes have adjusted, I can just make out an arm, thrown up against the side window, but the light is so dim that I can’t see any texture on the sleeve. Then she starts to speak to me, as if she has woken up, processed my presence.

“Are you there?” she’s asking. She sounds quite different now. There’s fear in her voice. “I don’t want to be on my own. Who’s there? Don’t go.”

I kneel down hurriedly and say, “Yes. I’m here.”

“I thought so,” she says. “You won’t leave me, will you?”

“No,” I say. “I won’t leave you. There’s an ambulance on its way. Just stay calm. Try not to move.”

“You’re very kind,” she says. The expensive, cultured voice goes with the Audi, and I know—hearing that voice making that remark—that she makes that comment dozens of times a day, without even thinking about it, when people have shown her courtesy or deference at the farm shop or the butcher’s.

“I’ve got myself into a bit of a mess,” she says, trying to laugh. The arm moves, fractionally, as if she is testing it out, then lies still again. “My husband is going to be so cross. He had the car cleaned on Friday.”

“I’m sure he’ll understand,” I say. “He’ll just want to know you’re okay. Are you hurt?”

“I don’t really know. I don’t think so. I think I knocked my head, and I don’t think my legs are too good,” she says. “It’s a nuisance. I suppose I was going too fast, and I must have hit some ice. . . . I thought I saw a fox on the road. Oh, well.”

We wait in silence for a moment. My thighs are starting to ache and the knees of my jeans, pressed into damp bracken, are stiff with cold and water. I adjust my position and wonder how long it will take the ambulance to get here from Fulbury Norton. Ten minutes? Twenty? She doesn’t sound terribly hurt. I know it’s not a good idea to interfere in a car accident, but maybe I should try to help her out somehow. But then again, if she has a broken leg . . . and anyway, I have no way of opening the car door, which is crumpled and pleated between us, like a piece of cardboard.

I cup my hands and blow on them. I wonder how cold she is.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

“Frances,” I say. “What’s yours?”

“Alice,” she says. I might be imagining it, but I think her voice is sounding a little fainter. Then she asks, “Do you live around here?”

“Not anymore. I live in London. I’ve been visiting my parents. They live about twenty minutes away—near Frynborough.”

“Lovely part of the world. We’ve got a place in Biddenbrooke. Oh, dear, he will be wondering where on earth I’ve got to. I said I’d call when I got in.”

I’m not sure what she means and I’m suddenly frightened she’s going to ask me to ring her husband. Where’s the ambulance? Where are the police? How long does it take, for God’s sake? “Are you cold?” I ask, shoving my hands into my jacket pockets. “I wish I could do more to help make you comfortable. But I don’t think I should try to move you.”

“No, let’s wait,” she agrees lightly, as if we’re at a bus stop, only mildly inconvenienced, as if it’s just one of those things. “I’m sure they’re on their way.” Then she makes a sound that frightens me, a sharp inhalation, a tiny gasp or cry, and then she stops talking, and when I say, “Alice? Alice?” she doesn’t answer, but makes the noise again, and it’s such a small sort of noise, so hopeless somehow; and I know when I hear it that this is serious after all.

I feel terribly alone then, and redundant: alone in the dark wood with the rain and the crying. And I look back over my shoulder, towards my car, the dazzle of its headlamps, and behind it I can see only darkness, and I keep looking and looking, and talking—though she’s no longer responding—and eventually I see lights, blue and white flashing lights, and I say, “Alice, they’re here, they’re coming, I can see them, it’s going to be fine, just hold on. They’re coming.”
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 14, 2013

    This book started off strongly. The accident scene and the inter

    This book started off strongly. The accident scene and the interaction between Alys and Frances was dramatic and immediately caught my attention. From then onward it failed to live up to my expectations. I wanted more from Frances. I wanted empathy and compassion. I wanted to like her but found her to be not very likeable. It’s hard to get into a book fully when you dislike the main character.

    Sometimes honest and deep friendships are formed over tragic circumstances. That was not the case here. Frances happened to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a family during their time of grieving. Originally she wanted to put the accident behind her and have nothing to do with the victim’s family. Only after learning the identity of the family did she agree to meet them. Once she realized who they were and what they could do for her she seized this opportunity and used it to her advantage.

    I kept reading because I wanted to find out what would happen to the Kytes and to Frances, how long would her new found status as part of the literary elite of England last? Would the Kytes grow tired of her or see through her act? The book kept me interested but there was something lacking. There was no connection between reader and the characters. None of the characters made any impact. I found them bland.

    The book was written well. The language was very descriptive but lacking in emotional dept. It was a good time filler book but I was not the right audience for this book. If you are into books about women willing to use people and seize opportunities to further their career and social status then you’ll enjoy this book.

    I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2012

    Blech

    I don't get the accolades for this book. The writing was the only thing going for it. Didn't like any of the characters. Most especially disliked the protagonist and how she manipulated and deceived constantly. For me, it was akin to watching a bad soap opera or Lifetime movie.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2012

    Seemed obvious

    Dont get all the raves as this book is full of sterotypes who dont really come alive . Publishing cattiness and British class barriers do not make a plot or an interesting theme. You want to read a good book about manipulation and the masks we present to others and even ourselves -- then read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Biggest complaint with this book -- boredom. Left me saying " that's all you've got? "

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2012

    Excellent! Beautifully crafted, you'll be in it til the end. M

    Excellent! Beautifully crafted, you'll be in it til the end. More please, Ms. Lane!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2014

    Horrible Woman

    The books main charcter, had no charcter. Horrible woman the book started and ended well. The rest not so good..

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2013

    B

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  • Posted February 24, 2013

    I enjoyed the beginning of this book, it really captured my atte

    I enjoyed the beginning of this book, it really captured my attention, but that was short lived. I found the writing disjointed, with characters introduced here and there that didn't seem to have much bearing on the story as a whole. The main character, Francis Thorpe, lacked character development; I finished the book still not feeling like I knew her. If it wasn't such a short novel, I probably wouldn't have finished it as I really found it a struggle to get into and enjoy. It was a predictable and lukewarm read, and I probably won't recommend it to my book club.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2012

    Wren

    Bye love you too.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2012

    Aly

    * kisses her forehead* gtg ttyl bye love you

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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